Section 3 | Bovine Respiratory Disease in Veal Calves

Ontario Veal Industry
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Identifying Calves with Bovine Respiratory Disease

Sometimes respiratory disease can be difficult to identify in calves. Symptoms can be subtle or vague, and are similar to other conditions. Researchers have created a standardized way to examine calves systematically to allow for easier detection and intervention. It’s all about identifying calves early to provide the right treatment at the right time. When respiratory disease is detected early there is a greater chance of success through effective treatment and prevention of an outbreak to the rest of the herd. If left too long untreated, respiratory disease can result in permanent lung damage, and reduced growth and production.

The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Veal Cattle outlines the importance of monitoring calf health twice daily, recording treatments, establishing protocols with your veterinarian, and ensuring that key aspects of animal husbandry are established.

The scoring system below, created at the University of California Davis, evaluates 6 key variables of varying weights that are individually scored and summed together to predict respiratory disease in calves. Each calf is scored for the presence or absence of each clinical sign, assigning a total score for each to the calf.



Clinical Sign Level Score
1. Cough None or induced
2. Nasal Discharge None
3. Ocular Discharge None
4. Ear Position Normal, ear flick, or head shake
Ear droop or head tilt
5. Abnormal Respiration Absent
6. Rectal Temperature <39.2 °C
≥39.2 °C
Total Score Add up the score from each box and enter here >

A total score of ≥5 means the calf is abnormal and requires treatment.


Source: ACER Consulting Ltd.

The two advantages of this scoring system are:

  • It’s simplicity
    • Each variable is dichotomized for ease of assessment and entry
  • Minimal animal handling
    • Animals only need to be handled (for rectal temperature measurement) if they have a score of 4 after scoring the first 5 hands-off metrics


Source: Veal Farmers of Ontario